Two Bush-Appointed Judges Block Anti-Immigrant South Carolina Law


(Credit: AP)

(Credit: AP)

A federal appeals court upheld a block Tuesday on several key provisions in South Carolina’s harsh immigration law that effectively criminalize mere presence in the United States. Similar Arizona provisions were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The unanimous ruling by a panel of two Bush-appointed judges and one Obama-appointed judge, upholds an injunction on criminalizing a wide swath of fundamental activities, including the “conceal,” “harbor,” “shelter,” or “transport” of those not lawfully present, either by the undocumented person, or by someone else assisting the undocumented person. The blocked provisions also punish failure to carry an alien registration card, and display of a false identification card. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit panel explains:

The Supreme Court recognized in Arizona that ‘as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.’ We are hard-pressed to see how an unlawfully present alien, going about her normal daily life, would be able to avoid violating Sections 4(A) and (C) of the Act. Simply staying in one’s home could be viewed as an attempt to ‘shelter’ oneself from detection. Taking a bus or driving home at the end of the workday would be ‘transpor[ing]’ oneself to the shelter of one’s home to avoid detection. The broad sweep of these sections violates the clear rule of Arizona that unlawful presence is not a criminal offense.

This ruling — a win both for immigrants’ rights groups and the Department of Justice — is a predictable result in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that federal immigration law preempts local attempts to police immigration status. Another federal appeals court struck down most of Alabama’s draconian immigration law in light of the high court ruling. And just this Monday, another federal appeals court blocked a Dallas, Texas, provision that would bar landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, relying heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court decision. A similar Nebraska rental ban, however, was upheld by a conservative appeals court panel, setting that question up for possible Supreme Court review.

This latest ruling means the three South Carolina provisions will remain temporarily blocked until the court holds a full trial on the statute. But South Carolina’s “show me your papers” provision is now in effect, after a federal court lifted the hold on the provision that requires police to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to strike down Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision last year, but left the door open for future challenges alleging discrimination and racial profiling once the provisions go into effect.